It was time for something different, this time inspired by a piece of wood given to me by a forestry colleague in southern Sweden. Curly birch (Betula pendula var. carelica) is a cultivar of silver birch found in western Europe. My friend has this species growing on his property and uses it for the pens that he turns on his small lathe. The wood has lots of bark inclusions that give it a spectacular figure. I decided it would be the centre of attention on a contemporary themed classical guitar. I dubbed the instrument "Curly Birch".
What do I mean by "contemporary"? Classical guitars have many design features that are very traditional. Some are more or less aesthetic, such as headstock shape, rosette patterns and bridge design, but other features affect playability, such as a slightly slimmer neck with a radius on the fingerboard and inlaid side makers. I made non-traditional changes in all these areas, but the all-important "box" and bracing are fashioned closely after a well-known guitar made by José Ramirez in 1966, similar to instruments used by Segovia and Parkening.
The spectacular figure of the curly birch wood was featured in the rosette and on the "tie block". The top and bracing of the guitar are Sitka spruce. The back, sides, bridge, binding and headplate are Indian rosewood. The neck is mahogany and the bound fingerboard is ebony. While there is extensive purfling, it consists of a single line of maple against the darker woods. Shell inlay is MOP, used on the headstock and for the fingerboard side makers. The finish is lacquer.
I finished the guitar in late 2014, while we were still in Nairobi. The sale hit a snag with the customer's cash flow, so the guitar was transported in the shipping container with the rest of our personal effects. A couple of months ago I sent the guitar to Toronto for evaluation by some professional players. I was delighted, not only to get some great feedback, but also to see the guitar recorded. I took one of the tracks and used it as background to a slideshow-style video that illustrates some of the processes I used in building the instrument. Andy McKee gave us permission to use his piece "Dream Catcher" and Jeff Biggar performed it on "Curly Birch". My nephew Andrew Mullin produced the audio track. Many thanks to Andy, Jeff and Andrew.